Hands up who knows how this quotation, allegedly by Voltaire, finishes.
That’s right: “….but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
It strikes me that this point of view needs repeating and repeating, needs re-examing and needs debating, especially in our modern times.
I read that a group of ‘antifascists, feminists, and people who participate in the class struggle’ felt it was appropriate to disrupt a speech by well-known right-wing M.P. Jacob Rees-Mogg.
I also read that well-known left-wing M.P. Diane Abbott has been receiving ‘sickeningly racist and sexist abuse’.
I have only picked two examples, which seem to me to typify some of the standards of poitical ‘debate’ which are seen as acceptable at the present. I would like to widen the argument to include more censorship issues, including art, film, theatre, music (yes, really) and no doubt others, but you, dear readers, are all intelligent and aware enough to provide your own. Just look up ‘modern examples of left-wing censorship’ or ‘modern examples of right-wing censorship’ on any search engine (more than one is available) if you want more. BEWARE if you have high blood pressure.
In principle, I feel that speech should be free. Something about the basic principles of censorship appals me. If you start to censor anything, where do you stop? Who does the censoring?
I hope you notice that in the course of this confused amble through my thoughts I have avoided expressing any political opinions; unless a basic objection to censorship is political.
I tentatively conclude that free speech is important and that censorship is wrong. Every case where it is advocated should be considered very carefully. (Personally I feel, for example, that nobody should be allowed to advocate violence; but you may well disagree.) It hugely worries me to see free speech of any sort being suppressed.
Footnote 1: The quotation of the title was used by one Evelyn Beatrice Hall to summarise Voltaire’s views; they are not his words.
Footnote 2: An alternative to Voltaire was expressed by Samuel Johnson: “Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it.” The picture, sharp-eyed people, is of Dr Johnson.
Footnote 3: I also note that the BBC’s political correspondent, Laura Kuenssberg, needed a bodyguard at the Labour Party conference. Meanwhile, a local politician here in sunny Hampshire was telling me how anti-Conservative Ms Kuenssberg is. When the BBC gets flak from both sides of the political argument (sorry for the warlike metaphor) they must be doing something right.